We have come to the end of the Dark Knight. The journey Rocksteady began in 2009 with Batman: Arkham Asylum finally ends this year with Batman: Arkham Knight. Knight is the story of Batman's end while also standing as the definitive coda to Rocksteady's trilogy.
The core of the Batman: Arkham games remains the same. The combat is still the same counter-and-punish affair you've played in previous Arkham games. Batman still takes to the rooftops with his trademark grappling hook. The Dark Knight and his rogues gallery are still the heavier, darker versions of their classic counterparts. Rocksteady has crafted a great trilogy of Batman games, and its tale tells the story of a very specific Batman. Warner Bros can continue to make Batman: Arkham games, but they'll have to take place within the confines of this trilogy.
Once again, a reason is contrived for the city of Gotham to be devoid of the average citizen. The Joker is dead, but Gotham remains in peril. The primary antagonist for Batman's crusade is the Scarecrow, returning to the Arkham games with a brand-new voice. (Given the Scarecrow's extensive verbal sparring with Batman, Rocksteady has understandably upgraded his voice actor to Fringe and Sleepy Hollow's John Noble.) The Scarecrow has plunged Gotham into chaos, causing most of the citizens to leave the city. Dr. Jonathan Crane's villainous alter ego is joined by the eponymous Arkham Knight, a highly-trained foe with extensive mercenary backing.
Arkham Knight's story is a worthy end to Rocksteady's Batman saga. The Dark Knight takes on a surprising new parter for his final night, but the new addition works perfectly. I admit, I had some issues with the specific direction of the plot at times, but the developer ultimately brought the game and the series to a satisfying conclusion. As a comic fan the identity of the Arkham Knight, the game's primary mystery, was apparent within the game's first third. If you're like me, a few educated guesses will definitely put you on the right track. Despite that, there are a few major twists that keep the tale moving forward.
I say "primary quest" because Arkham Knight has a new "Most Wanted" mission system. The missions available all fall into different categories on an in-game menu. Everything flows into what I call "the mission wheel". Each mission type occupies a certain section on the wheel, counting up to 100 percent as you slowly complete objectives. These missions include the primary plot under the "City of Fear" line, expanding outward to things like the "Perfect Crime" missions that have Batman investigating several corpses that have been mounted around Gotham.
Some of the quests are story- or character-driven, but a number of them are open-world busywork. You'll have to destroy watchtowers, flying drones, city checkpoints, and mines around the city to free Gotham's three islands from the Arkham Knight's control. I finished all of these missions, but I feel like it's possible to complete the game without diving into the generic open-world quests.
Together, the three islands provide a wide expanse for Batman to fight crime in. The zipline-gliding gameplay pioneered in Arkham Asylum/City still works here; in fact, floating around the city with the zipline>reel-in>glide loop is still immensely satisfying. You can move across the entirety of Gotham rather easily by gliding along, but Rocksteady added Batmobile as a new option.
The Batmobile itself is more of a large metal boat than a car. I got a handle on Batman's iconic vehicle early in the game, but I never really felt like I had precise control of it. My guess is Rocksteady wanted the Batmobile to feel like a big, powerful machine, but that doesn't translate across to the precision you need for certain missions and objectives. When you're tackling the "Armored and Dangerous" missions for example, which feature the Batmobile chasing down armored personnel carriers, you'll wish the vehicle's handling was a bit tighter.
Holding down the L2 trigger (I played on PlayStation 4) turns the Batmobile into its Tank mode. This mode is needed to fight the Arkham Knight's drones around the city; drones will paint their line of fire on the battlefield before taking a shot. You'll shoot down the drones in waves, dodging their attacks while you do so. This is fine early on, but some of the later missions will throw 40-50 drones your way; it can get tedious dodging and shooting for so long.
This tedium extends to the classic Batman: Arkham combat. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are more powerful than their predecessors, but that power isn't used to create smarter enemies. Instead, Arkham Knight features larger groups of thugs and mercenaries. These groups will usually contain various enhanced enemies, including larger brutes, medics, ninjas, and shock troopers. The issue I had is winning is usually about finishing off the hierarchy of foes in the right order. Medics revive and power-up soldiers so you can't attack them directly. Brutes have to be stunned and finished off with a lengthy combo. Some soldiers carry shields or swords; you can disarm them, but other soldiers will pick those items up.
Frequently, you'll find yourself using the correct move to finish a specific enemy, only to be stopped by countering another foe. Batman: Arkham's combat is enjoyable overall, but occasionally having your combos stopped and being pinged in the back of your head feels annoying more than anything else. Seeing Brutes, shield troops, and medics in the same encounter tended to elicit a tired sigh from me more than real excitement and a sense of challenge.
While these are real issues, Batman: Arkham Knight's essential gameplay is still a ton of fun. The stealth gameplay is given bigger playgrounds for Batman to be a scary predator in. There's more mini-games and diversions to reinforce that Batman is as much a detective as he is a pugilist. Gotham's level design is an amazing triumph; once you get to the high rises of Founder's Island, Arkham Knight handily outdoes Arkham City. Rocksteady even breaks up the largely open-world Gotham with enclosed, focused sections, allowing Arkham Knight to split the difference between the tight Arkham Asylum and wider Arkham City.
Jeremy previously wrote about one of his major problems with open-world games: a lack of real exploration. Instead, many open-world titles are simply maps full of icons for players to clear. In Arkham Knight, while some missions have clear waypoints, others are vague in an attempt to make the player explore more. One series of missions has Batman putting out an arsonist's fires, but there's no waypoints; instead you have to look for the smoke billowing out of the city's skyline.
Another series of missions involves finding firefighters that have been taken hostage. You'll get hints from radio chatter between the police helicopters, but otherwise, you're left to your own devices to find the hostages. Once again, slight tedium rears its head, as the helicopters will note specific districts, but the game's maps doesn't clearly mark district names. At one point, I simply floated around an island for 30 minutes looking for the last firefighter. I knew which district the hostage was sighted in, but I didn't know where that district was.
I had issues with Arkham Knight, but the truth is I finished it. I powered my way through the critical path, but I also 100 percent completed many of the additional missions. The Riddler trophies were the only missions or collectibles I simply ignored. Rocksteady absolutely nailed the feeling of being Batman and Arkham Knight only increases the scope of the original games. Yes, I got annoyed, but the moment-to-moment play of Batman: Arkham Knight is still amazing. If you've saved the Asylum and cleaned up the City, it's worth finishing the Knight off.
The Nitty Gritty
- Lasting appeal: Once you finish the main quest, there's still the rest of the Most Wanted missions and the Knightfall Protocol to keep you occupied.
- Visuals: Batman: Arkham Knight is an amazing looking game.
Rocksteady brings the story of its version of Batman to a satisfying conclusion. There's some moments of tedium to be found, but if you want to be the Batman, this is one of the best experiences available.
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